Lady Gaga is successful, beautiful and talented: on the surface, she appears to have it all. But things may not have always been that way. In fact, life before fame was allegedly very different for the singer – according to an inside source, that is. You see, one of the star’s fellow NYU alumni has seemingly confirmed a shocking rumor about the her college days. And the revelation will make you see Gaga in a whole new light.
But the full extent of what Gaga went through at college only became clear after she pocketed an Oscar for her A Star Is Born track “Shallow.” Remarkably, picking up said award in February 2019 made her a record-holder: she is the first ever person to win an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Grammy and a Golden Globe over a one-year period.
Needless to say, such a momentous achievement resulted in a fresh rush of interest in the singer. And while her success was being discussed online, Twitter users seemingly unearthed new information about the star’s college days. And the revelations came as a shock to many of the singer’s fans. After all, it’s shocking to think of Gaga – of all people – going through such a heartbreaking experience.
Right now, Gaga is one of the biggest names in showbiz. The singer had her breakout success in 2008 with the album The Fame and its hits “Poker Face” and “Just Dance.” And since then she’s remained pretty much consistently at the top. In fact, Gaga’s second and third albums, Born This Way and Artpop, respectively, were even bigger hits than her first.
By 2016 Gaga had already shifted 27 million albums and received multiple awards. In fact, she’d won the sort of acclaim most musicians can only dream of. In 2011 she was ranked second on a Time magazine poll of the decade’s most influential people, for example. And a year later she was named the fourth Greatest Woman in Music by VH1.
Moreover, as soon as Gaga decided to break into acting it turned out she was good at that, too. From 2015 to 2016 she played Elizabeth in the fifth season of TV series American Horror Story – and people liked what they saw. She picked up a “Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film” Golden Globe for her performance.
In addition to being a hugely successful singer and actress, Gaga is also an activist. The amount of time and money she devotes to good causes has won her praise. Over the years she’s worked for victims of natural disasters, homeless youth charities, anti-fracking environmental organizations, and LGBT advocacy.
Gaga is a member of the LGBT community herself, in fact, as she’s bisexual. She’s said in interviews that her song “Poker Face” is about her having an attraction to women. And she’s unsurprisingly devoted to fighting for LGBT rights worldwide. For instance, the singer’s famous “meat dress” was a statement about such issues. In 2010 she told Ellen Degeneres it meant “if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones.”
And in 2011 Gaga gave a stirring speech at the Europride event in Rome. She told her audience, “The stories of all my beautiful fans, the young soldiers, the homeless LGBT youth, anti-gay violence, the effect that the denial of gay marriage has on real families worldwide — these are the stories that must be told to the world.”
“We stand together to demand and to defend basic human rights,” Gaga continued. “We have come so far from the days of Stonewall. But despite the political advances made in terms of our rights and visibility as LGBT people, sadly the truth and the fact is that homophobia and anti-gay violence and bullying are alive and real.”
Gaga is extremely outspoken about bullying in general, too. “People want you to fail. People want to tear me down, they were going to knife me anyway,” she told Time Out magazine in 2011. “The good news is that when they look back they’ll all remember how brave I was: ‘She put out a record about being yourself, and we crucified her for it, but she soared on and sat at number one for six weeks and told everyone to f*** off!’”
“Being bullied stays with you your whole life,” Gaga explained. “And no matter how many people are screaming your name or how many number one hits you have, you can still wake up and feel like a loser.” Asked about her music, she said, “Unless I am both capable of and willing to reopen the wound every time I write a song… I’m really not worth being called an artist at all.”
When Time Out asked, “Who was your worst bully at school?” Gaga avoided the question to some extent. “There were a lot of bullies,” she replied. “You have to open the wound and pour salt and arsenic and poison in that wound and you must get out a needle and poke and prod then sew it back up again.”
Memories of the bullying had become part of her song-writing process, Gaga implied. “When I’m handed a beat that sounds amazing, that beat is the scissors, and then I cut the wound I’ve just sewn up, and I go back in,” she said. “I go back in and I ask myself the same questions again and again and again: why am I here?”
The magazine then asked Gaga what the answer to that question was, and she said, “Because I must be here. Because I know it is my purpose to be an artist, but I have to go back over and over that wound, being bullied, feeling insecure, all things that recurred in my childhood and continue to recur through my career. You can’t look me in the eye and tell me I’m one of them: I know I’m not. And I never will be.”
The Time Out interviewer asked Gaga, “One of ‘them?’ Who are ‘they?’” Gaga answered, “The in-crowd. Right? I don’t really want to be one of them, yet [the bullying] affected me so deeply that I have to go in over and over and over again to write music.” She considered herself part of a different group, then.
“If you were not bullied in high school, I can imagine that it might be a bit difficult to be around us, because we kind of flock together,” the pop star explained. “But there’s no discrimination. I mean, if you were a cool kid at school, that doesn’t mean you’re not welcome. I’m not trying to further divisiveness.”
“Those people who feel bullied or like nerds, I’m trying to make them feel like winners, but I’m not trying to make them hate all of the cool kids more,” Gaga concluded. “It’s all about closing the gap and bringing people closer together. And that’s what the pop end of my music is all about.”
In 2012 Gaga took things one step further and created the non-profit Born This Way Foundation (BTWF), the name taken from her hit 2011 song. The aim of the BTWF is to promote kindness, community-building and tolerance among young people. Gaga’s mother, Cynthia Germanotta, co-founded it with her.
The BTWF’s website explains the organization’s ongoing mission. “The Foundation is dedicated to creating a safe community that helps connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world,” it says. “We believe that everyone has the right to feel safe, to be empowered and to make a difference in the world. Together, we will move towards acceptance, bravery and love.”
And when Gaga spoke about the foundation at Harvard University in February 2012, more stories came out about her childhood. Once, Cynthia said, the other kids at her daughter’s school threw a party and deliberately excluded young Stefani. Gaga also told The New York Times that she once got chucked into a trash can during her schooldays.
“I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point,” Gaga explained. “I didn’t want to go to class. And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.”
Gaga admitted that she was still haunted by those childhood experiences. “To this day, some of my closest friends say, ‘Gaga, you know, everything’s great. You’re a singer; your dreams have come true,’” she stated. “But, still, when certain things are said to you over and over again as you’re growing up, it stays with you and you wonder if they’re true.”
Gaga even ended up drawing on those experiences to play the main character Ally in A Star Is Born. “What I had to do was go back further into my childhood, into my high school years, when I was bullied and made fun of for having big dreams,” she explained to People magazine in September 2018. “That’s where I went.”
Those big dreams eventually came true, of course. Nonetheless, even when Gaga won her Oscar, she gave a speech that referenced what she’d been through. “It’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you’re beaten up,” she said onstage at the ceremony. “It’s about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going.”
And after Gaga’s triumphant night, some details of her experiences were spread around by shocked fans. It transpired that while she was at NYU, her fellow students had created a Facebook page that was malicious… and hilariously wrong. It was called “Stefani Germanotta, you will never be famous.”
Twitter users had plenty to say about the page and its 12 – yes, 12 – members. One person wrote, “The best revenge is living well. Always has been and always will be. Bravo Lady Gaga!” And another pointed out, succinctly, “That’s the difference between those who put their effort to destroy and those to put their effort to build.”
Although the story of the Facebook page came to the attention of the wider public in 2019 after Gaga’s Oscar win, it had actually already been written about in some depth back in 2016. Lauren Bohn, a journalist who’d gone to the same college as Gaga, penned a piece called “When they dissed the future Lady Gaga” for PRI’s The World.
“The page housed pictures of a pretty Norah Jones-esque young 18-year-old NYU student who sang and played piano at local bars,” Bohn explained of the Facebook group. “The group was peppered with comments, sharp as porcupine needles, vilifying the aspiring musician for being an ‘attention-whore.’ Scores asked: ‘Who does she think she is?’”
One man went so far as to get a flyer for one of Gaga’s early shows, stamp it into the ground, and then put a picture of it on the group, according to Bohn. “I couldn’t shake the raw feeling of filth while scrolling down that Facebook page, but I pretty much – and quickly – forgot about that group and that girl with the intense raven eyes,” she wrote.
Bohn came to realise, a few years later, that the bullied girl on Facebook and the superstar Lady Gaga were one and the same. The journalist was on a train when she picked up a copy of New York magazine and happened to stumble upon a profile of Gaga that gave out the singer’s real name. She was shocked.
“I was overcome with a dizzying emotional cocktail of stage-mom-at-a-beauty-pageant and nerd-revenge triumph,” Bohn wrote. “But also shame. Shame that I never wrote on that group, shame that I never defended the girl with the intense raven eyes – the girl whose brave flyers were stomped on, probably somewhere near my dorm.”
Bohn ended her article by thanking Gaga for being so strong. “I’ve got a lot of feelings, but the easiest one to articulate: gratitude,” she wrote. “Stefani, thank you. Thank you for always thinking you’re a superstar, for using your cracks to let the light come out more brightly. Humans, let’s follow suit.”
A world-famous megastar such as Gaga taking a stand against bullying is important, because the statistics around the subject are bleak. According to the website DoSomething.org, a fifth of students in the USA aged 12 to 18 will have been bullied at some time in their lives. This leads to decreased grades at school and poor attendance.
And even more worrying is that childhood bullying is linked with an increased risk of suicide. In 2019 a study about this was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The researchers had observed children in close to 50 countries and concluded that the more a youngster was bullied, the greater the likelihood that they would have suicidal thoughts.
The study served as a warning of sorts. Within it, the researchers wrote, “Prevention of bullying should be considered in suicide prevention strategies. Mental health practitioners should be cognizant of the fact that bullying victimization can be the cause of suicide attempts, and it is important to assess suicidality in adolescents who are bullied.”
Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation wants to change all that. It’s not strictly an anti-bullying charity, but the idea is, fundamentally, to get people to be nicer to each other. When it was launched, Gaga made clear that although her experiences with bullies shaped her adulthood, she wasn’t bitter about her past.
“The Born This Way Foundation is not restitution or revenge for my experiences. I want to make that clear,” Gaga told The New York Times. “This is: I am now a woman, I have a voice in the universe, and I want to do everything I can to become an expert in social justice and hope I can make a difference and mobilize young people to change the world.”
And it seems to be working. So far, the foundation has launched campaigns to reduce cyberbullying and to help people through stressful situations. In October 2017 – after the triple disaster of Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma – the BTWF teamed with One America Appeal to start a mental health program for people affected.
Gaga is passionate about her work, and it’s easy to see why. In 2012 The New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof asked her “if people won’t be cynical about an agenda so simple and straightforward as kindling kindness.” Gaga replied, “That cynicism is exactly what we’re trying to change.”